Understanding Multiple Sclerosis

An immune-mediated disease, multiple sclerosis is a progressive disorder characterized by a wide assortment of unpredictable symptoms that vary in intensity. The condition causes your immune system to mistakenly attack healthy tissue in your central nervous system that control functions required for daily life. The disease disrupts the flow of information within your brain as well as its ability to communicate with the rest of your body. The diminished function means that nerve signals are not transmitted through your body correctly. This causes poor coordination and other problems.

Signs and Symptoms

When your nerves do not function properly, you may experience the following issues:

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Pain and Spasms

According to a study conducted by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, approximately 50 percent of sufferers experienced chronic pain especially in their backs. Other common symptoms include stiff muscles and joints as well as painful uncontrollable spasms of the extremities, particularly the legs.

Muscle Weakness or Fatigue

Approximately 80 percent of people in the early stages of MS report unexplained fatigue and weakness. As the nerves in the spinal column deteriorate, chronic fatigue becomes a problem. The fatigue appears suddenly and can last for several weeks before subsiding. Muscle weakness typically occurs in the legs first.

Numbness and Tingling

Because MS affects the brain and spinal cord, the body’s message control center, it can cause conflicting signals to be sent to various parts of your body producing a tingling sensation. At other times, nerve signals are not sent, which causes numbness. In addition to the face and arms, the symptoms can occur in the fingers, legs and toes.

Difficulty Walking

Dizziness as well as problems with balance and coordination can decrease your mobility. Individuals suffering from MS often report feelings of lightheadedness and vertigo. The symptoms usually occur when the person attempts to stand up.

Blurred or Double Vision

Inflammation of the optic nerve disrupts central vision. This can lead to blurred or double vision as well as blindness in severe cases. Vision usually degenerates over time and may be accompanied by pain when the person moves their eyes to the side or looks up.

Sexual Dysfunction

People suffering from MS may experience a problem with sexual arousal as the disease blocks the signals from transiting through the central nervous system.

Poor Bowel or Bladder Control

Up to 80 percent of people who have MS will experience a dysfunctional bladder. The disease may cause frequent urination, send strong urges to urinate or cause an inability to urinate. Individuals also experience constipation, diarrhea and a loss of bowel control.

Cognitive and Emotional Problems

Approximately 50 percent of MS sufferers will develop issues with their cognitive performance. These include language problems like slurred speech and difficulty staying organized. Along with poor concentration and forgetfulness, the negative effect of MS on your quality of life may also lead to depression and other emotional health problems, such as irritability and mood swings.

Other Symptoms

Each person suffering from MS will experience his or her own unique set of symptoms. These health issues may occur during periods of attack or relapse. In addition to the aforementioned symptoms, MS patients may also experience uncontrollable shaking, hearing loss and seizures as well as trouble breathing and swallowing.

What Is MS?

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, debilitating disease that adversely affects your central nervous system. The illness occurs when your immune system attacks myelin, the protective, fatty tissue that surrounds nerve fibers. Without the protective coating, nerves are susceptible to damage. Scar tissue may form affecting how well the nerves function.

Scientists believe that MS is triggered in a genetically predisposed individual by a currently unidentified environmental factor. While the cause of MS is uncertain, several risk factors make contracting the disease more likely, such as smoking tobacco. The disease typically occurs after the person has contracted a viral infection, such as the human herpes virus 6 (HHV-6) and the Epstein-Barr virus. These infections may trigger the condition or cause a relapse.

Some research indicates that higher amounts of vitamin D, which the skin synthesizes when exposed to sunlight, may strengthen the immune system. Ongoing research in the areas of epidemiology, genetics and immunology is being conducted to find the cause and the cure. The research will also help scientists develop more effective treatment options.

What to Expect After a Diagnosis

MS cannot be diagnosed with a single test. Your physician will review your medical history, conduct a neurological exam and order a series of diagnostic tests. The results will help rule out other potential causes and confirm a MS diagnosis. After receiving the results, you will probably have many questions and concerns.

The first step is to learn everything that you can about the disease, including any potential impact on your employment. The information will help you understand the illness, its symptoms and the treatment strategies that are available. You should also ask about resources and support groups available for yourself and family members so that you can effectively manage your symptoms and enjoy the best possible quality of life.

How to Live with MS

Most people suffering from MS find ways to manage their symptoms and function well in the face of the unique challenges presented by the illness. People share the struggles and coping strategies with local and online support groups. For the best outcome, you should consult a doctor who has experience treating the disease.

If you take prescription medications, it is important that you follow the correct dosing schedule to receive the optimum benefits. Diet and exercise are also essential for your condition. You should eat a well-balanced diet that provides sufficient nutrients and fiber while restricting empty calories. Regular exercise is important for your physical and mental health. Ask your physician for diet and exercise recommendations designed for people with the neurological disorder.

Studies demonstrate that individuals with MS also benefit from stress-reduction activities, such as meditation, tai chi and hypnotherapy as well as acupuncture and massage therapy. MS is a lifelong illness so it is important that you communicate with all your health care providers on a regular basis. In addition to addressing your concerns and problems, the medical team can customize a treatment protocol that works best for your condition.

Treatment Options

Although there is currently no cure for MS, several treatment options are available. If you suffer from MS, you may be prescribed one of several disease-modifying drugs that are designed to slow its progression, reduce your relapse rate and ease symptoms. These may include oral or self-injectable medications. Your doctor may also prescribe corticosteroids and medications designed to treat specific symptoms as well as the stress that accompanies the condition.

In addition to teaching you how to keep up your strength and balance, physical therapy has the ability to alleviate your pain and fatigue. Occupational therapy will show you ways to perform daily tasks in ways that make them easier to perform. If you have trouble walking, you may be advised to use braces, a cane crutches or mobility scooter. These treatments and lifestyle changes will help you remain as independent as possible as you cope with MS.

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